Category Archives: Dave Taylor

alberta liberal attrition.

Today’s news that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leaving the Liberal caucus is big news for political watchers, but it is far from the first time that an MLA has left the Alberta Liberal Caucus. Due to many circumstances, ten MLAs have departed the Liberal Caucus before their term has ended over the past 16 years.

2006: One-term Edmonton-Manning MLA Dan Backs was expelled from the Liberal caucus by party leader Kevin Taft due to “ongoing friction” between the MLA and his colleagues. Mr. Back sat an an Independent MLA. After unsuccessfully seeking the PC nomination in 2008, Mr. Backs ran as an Independent and placed third behind Tory Peter Sandhu and New Democrat Rick Murti.

2004: Leader and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson both left the Liberal caucus to run as federal Liberal candidates. Dr. Nicol eared 21.5% support against Conservative MP Rick Casson, and Ms. Carlson placed only 5,000 votes behind Edmonton-Strathcona Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

2000: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Sue Olsen left the Liberal caucus to run peruse a career in federal politics. Ms. Olsen was unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Edmonton-Centre East MP Peter Goldring.

1999: One-term Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Pamela Paul left the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent MLA after domestic issues made it difficult for her to work with her caucus colleagues. She did not seek re-election in 2001.

1998: Two-term Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky left the Liberals over a dispute with leader Nancy MacBeth. One month later, he joined the Progressive Conservative caucus and is currently the Minister of Health & Wellness.

1996: Former leader and Redwater MLA Nick Taylor left the Liberal caucus when he was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

1995: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Andrew Beniuk was expelled from the Liberal caucus and sat as an Independent before joining the PCs in 1996. Mr. Beniuk was defeated by Liberal Sue Olsen in the 1997 election. Mr. Beniuk attempted political comebacks as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Glengarry in 2001 and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in 2008.

1994: Edmonton-Beverly-Belmont MLA Julius Yankowski and Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Paul Langevin left the Liberals to sit as Independent MLAs before joining the PC caucus in 1995 and were both re-elected in 1997. Mr. Langevin retired in 2001 and Mr. Yankowski was defeated by New Democrat Ray Martin in 2004.

dave taylor leaving the liberals.

Liberal leader David Swann addresses the media this morning. Six Liberal MLAs had his back.

According to Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor will leave the Official Opposition Liberal Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA this morning.

The Alberta Liberals finally make the news.

Their best guy leaves them.

Dave Taylor, the party’s former deputy leader, the Calgary MLA many Liberals wanted as their top gun 16 months ago, will sit as an independent beginning Monday.

He is fed up with the Liberals as the main opposition on paper but nowhere near that in performance.

“We just don’t have a position that’s obvious to anybody on most things. I’m sorry, but we don’t. For two years now, we haven’t really stood for anything, with a few notable exceptions,” says Taylor, who spearheaded the party’s oilpatch-friendly policy on royalties.

“The Liberals are pretty much off the radar. We’re not talking about or standing for things in a way that translates to Albertans. Most Albertans have passed the Liberals by. People aren’t even politely curious.”

“I don’t think I can serve my constituents or other Albertans in the way they deserved to be served within the Liberals. They’re just too unfocused, too lacking in the ability to connect with the people of Alberta.”

“I just don’t see things happening. I feel I’ve tried.”

Mr. Taylor was first elected in 2004, defeating PC MLA Jon Lord in a high profile race. He served as Deputy Leader during Kevin Taft‘s time as Leader of the Official Opposition and ran for the party leadership following Dr. Taft’s resignation in 2008. Only attracting 1,616 votes, Mr. Taylor placed second to Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann. His defection from the Liberal caucus should not come as a surprise to many, as these rumours have been swirling around since the Liberals lost ground to the PCs in the last election. Liberal sources have told me that over the past year, caucus meetings have become especially heated between Mr. Taylor and other MLAs, leading to a dysfunctional team environment in the Official Opposition caucus. In January 2010, Mr. Taylor was given the opportunity to step into the spotlight when he announced the Liberal Party’s new energy policy, which was supposed to signal “a dramatic shift and tone” for the Liberals. In recent months, it has been rumoured that Mr. Taylor was investigating a run for Mayor of Calgary, though these now appear to be unsubstantiated.

As an Independent, Mr. Taylor would be in a good position to accept woos from both the Progressive Conservatives (who are in desperate need for some personality and could undercut the Liberals further by appointing him to cabinet) or the Wildrose Alliance (who could use a prominent opposition voice like Mr. Taylor’s to moderate their public face).

If Mr. Taylor does indeed announce his departure from the Liberal caucus today, these effects could be devastating to the Liberal Party – both Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta and Executive Director Corey Hogan were heavily involved in Mr. Taylor’s leadership campaign. His departure will also bring the Liberal caucus down to 8 MLAs from the 9 elected in 2008. While this initially does not look good for Dr. Swann, it could lead the Liberal caucus to become a more cohesive unit (strength in the face of destruction) – or it could lead to more internal criticism of his low-key style of leadership.

UPDATE: Both David Swann and Dave Taylor have released statements to the media. I attended Dr. Swann’s media conference at the Legislature this morning and will have some photos up later today. In a display of caucus solidarity, Dr. Swann was joined by 6 of the remaining 8 members of the Liberal caucus (Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang is in India on family matters). Dr. Swann told the media that he knew Mr. Taylor had not been happy inside the Liberal caucus since he was defeated in the 2008 leadership campaign.

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

– Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren’t literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
– Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city’s transportation infrastructure.
– The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
– AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on “pay for performance” and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
– With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor’s Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIverNaheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 – Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor’s organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
– A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party’s nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 – Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 – I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald – who accused to the group’s participants of being “elitist.” Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean‘s suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

upside-down week.

Shuffling the deck.

Long-time Government spokesperson Jerry Bellikka replaces Tom Olsen as spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach (Olsen now becomes Alberta’s Olympic Spokesperson in Vancouver). Former MLA Jim Gurnett replaces Jerry Toews as Chief of Staff at the NDP caucus. Instead of laughing at satire, PAB blogger David Sands leaves Twitter altogether. Taking a more open approach to the media than his predecessor, Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdeskys cell phone number is now showing up on Government media releases.

Not your father’s NEP

With new Energy Minister Ron Liepert‘s mandate to reclaim PC dominance over energy sector support from Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals do not want to be left out. Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leading his party’s 180-degree policy change from their previous position that resource royalties are too low. On the policy change, Mount Royal University Professor Bruce Foster told FFWD:

“It seems as if the Liberals didn’t take the lead on this or didn’t distinguish themselves and now they’re playing catch-up,” he says.

Calgary Grit has more.

Alberta Party of Alberta

Former deputy leader of the now-defunct Alberta Green Party Edwin Erickson is now leader of the Alberta Party. In the last election, Erickson placed second with 19% of the vote against Tory Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Erickson and Joe Anglin led the fight against Bill 50 and Erickson had publicly mused about creating the Progress Party of Alberta. The Alberta Party has existed in a number of forms since 1986, but has never been competitive (highest support: leader Mark Waters earned 1,200 votes in Calgary-Currie in 1993).

Ralph University

Olds College has re-named their Community Learning Centre after former Premier Ralph Klein and not everyone in Olds is enamoured with the decision.

david swann’s 1st anniversary.

Yesterday marked the first year anniversary of Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann becoming leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. In the race to replace former leader Kevin Taft, Swann was selected on the first ballot with 2,468 votes, compared to 1,616 for Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and 491 votes for former Edmonton-McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy.

Swann is one of the most sincere MLAs that I have had the pleasure to meet, but since entering his current role his party has continued to struggle to define itself and has had difficulty creating messages that resonate with Albertans. Although Swann entered his role under the banner of internal party reform, the attempts at reform appear to have stalled. Media releases from the Official Opposition offices sometimes include aggressive quotes that I have a difficult time imaging coming out of gentle Swann’s mouth, leading me to believe that he has yet to fully discover his voice in his role.

The Liberals appeared to have stalled after their narrow defeat in this year’s Calgary-Glenmore by-election, but according to a recent poll, the party is tied with Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs at 25% province-wide and has second place support in Edmonton and Calgary.

tuition tinkering in alberta.

Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner has said that he will accept and review requests from Alberta’s Post-Secondary Institutions to increase their base tuition rates beyond what is currently allowed under Alberta’s tuition policy. Whatever your thoughts on the cost of tuition – whether you believe in the strength of communities or individual investment (or a mixture of the two) – it is important to understand some of the context in which this posturing is occurring. This is not simply a result of tough economic times, the Government and Institutions have both attempted to and successfully tinkered with the tuition policy a number of times in recent years.

During very prosperous economic times in March 2006, the Presidents of the University of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Athabasca sent a letter to Minister Dave Hancock proposing that tuition increases be based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation plus 3.5 per cent.

In the letter, the presidents warn Alberta is falling behind. “Alberta lags behind the national average in post-secondary spaces, a serious problem as we seek to provide the workforce needed for an expanding economy.”

Students are also frustrated the presidents drafted a proposal without consulting them, saying they were under the impression a joint bid would be submitted to Hancock.

[University of Calgary Students’ Union President BryanWest called the proposal a “backroom deal.”

“We were all going to put forward one letter, with one profound and powerful voice,” said West who sits on the steering committee with the presidents and other stakeholders. “We feel really hurt by this and wonder if they were playing us all along.”

The day following my election as Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students in May 2006, I sat in front of the cameras with Liberal MLA Dave TaylorNDP MLA Raj PannuBill Moore-Kilgannon from Public Interest Alberta, and Jon Hoffman from ACTISEC to oppose the passage of Bill 40: Post-Secondary Learning Amendment Act.

Introduced during the (thankfully) short-lived tenure of Minister Denis Herard, Bill 40 removed Alberta’s tuition policy from the Post-Secondary Learning Act, thus removing the insurance that Albertans had that any changes to the policy governing the cost of post-secondary education would need to be debated in a public forum.

“We’re prepared to wait until the next time the legislature meets to have a new policy implemented, so that the policy is embedded in an act of the legislature,” said David Cournoyer, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and University of Alberta Students’ Union Vice President External. “If the tuition policy is not in legislation, it is no good to us.”

Universities and colleges in Alberta are currently limited to increasing tuition by CPI inflation (at a maximum), but because the tuition policy is now under regulation it can be changed in the privacy of a closed door Cabinet meeting. No public debate required.

setting the tone.

It only took two days into the fall session before the offensive hyperbole started to fly and the rotten culture inside Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is now out in full force. Sixth Grade students visiting the Assembly may easily mistake the men in dark suits as grown ups, but that description is harder to believe when you hear some of the words coming out of their mouths.

Health Minister Ron Liepert has mocked Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, claiming that she doesn’t understand the health care system. Premier Ed Stelmach has referred to the Liberal caucus as “these people” and even ridiculed the attendance at Liberal Party conventions. 

This afternoon, following a question from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason about H1N1 vaccinations, Stelmach responded:

“I’ll take the word of this nurse [Minister Yvonne Fritz] over the word of a bus driver any day”

On April 30, 2009, Stelmach took issue with comments by Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and wrote a letter to Liberal leader David Swann, calling for “civil debate in the Assembly.” Stelmach may have apologized for his comments this afternoon, but that doesn’t excuse the negative tone that the the Premier has already helped set on the floor of our elected Assembly.

who is running to be leader of alberta’s official opposition?

Judging from the buzz, it looks like Danielle Smith.

The two-person contest (which also includes Mark Dyrholm) to lead the now seatless right-wing Wild Rose Alliance appears to be attracting a larger amount of interest than last year’s contest to lead the official opposition Alberta Liberal Party.

The 2008 Liberal contest, which culminated in a December 2008 vote, attracted as contestants Calgary MLAs David Swann and Dave Taylor and former Edmonton MLA Mo Elsalhy. While the Liberal Party earned over 250,000 votes in the March 2008 election, the leadership candidates were only able to attract around 6,500 Albertans to join their party in anticipation of the vote. As far as I am aware, Alberta’s only other opposition party in the Legislature, the Alberta NDP, haven’t held a contested leadership race since 1996.

I remained somewhat skeptical following Alex Abboud‘s bold prediction and the recent columns in the Calgary Herald, but some of the latest buzz that I’ve been hearing has me wondering: could the Wild Rose Alliance under a leader like Danielle Smith could actually pose a serious threat to Ed Stelmach‘s Progressive Conservative Party?

The dominant PCs have become accustomed to facing a Liberal and NDP opposition that largely self-quarantines its resources in 20 to 25 urban ridings in Edmonton and Calgary, making it easy for the PCs to rack up massive majorities in the remaining 60 or so ridings. Both the leaders of the Liberals and NDP are having a difficult time gaining any traction in public opinion and voter turnout has dropped to a pathetically low ~40% in 2008, which has left the political environment in tinder dry conditions. A Reform Party-esq firestorm ignited by a smart and savvy libertarian like Smith could create a political challenge stronger than anything the PCs have seen since the dethroning Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party in 1971.

Kevin Libin‘s National Post coverage has revealed that a number of prominent Conservative Party of Canada organizers in Calgary have joined Smith’s campaign, which could destabilize what in many ways has become a delicate relationship between the governing Federal and Provincial Conservative parties in Alberta.

While the hype around the Wild Rose Alliance leadership contest may end up being little more than summer-time buzz, it will remain quite telling that at least in the short-term it is making some members of the governing PCs a little jumpy.

Related Link:
David Climenhaga: Danielle Smith to lead Wildrose Alliance? Remember where you read it first!

bill 44, evolution, & hyper-partisanship in alberta.

When the controversy over Bill 44 and evolution erupted earlier this week, I wasn’t sure whether it was just a continuation of NDP leader Brian Mason’s weekly outrage, the result of a clumsy communications strategy, or actually a real issue. Turns out, it’s all of the above.

Although I have a hard time believing that Education Minister Dave Hancock has an agenda to undermine Alberta’s science curriculum, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that certain MLAs in the governing caucus do. In March 2008, Albertans re-elected the Progressive Conservatives with a large 72-MLA caucus, with a number of socially conservative ideologues in their ranks.

While it’s likely that the outrage over Bill 44 is largely the result of a poor communications strategy (including Premier Ed Stelmach bringing up the evolution example himself), the genesis of the controversial amendments are politically suspect. Are the controversial sections of Bill 44 simply concessions that Hancock needed to make in order to appease his social conservative caucus-mates? The governing PC caucus consists of nearly all the MLAs in the Legislature, and because of this many legislative concessions and debates occur in closed-door Caucus meetings, rather than in public debate on the floor elected Assembly. This isn’t the first time in recent memory that social conservative politics made headlines by influencing government policy (earlier this month, the PC caucus decided to de-list transgendered medical operations).

Three years ago, now-Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton introduced a Private Member’s Bill that would have banned any mention of homosexuality from Alberta’s educational curriculum. The longest-serving PC MLA, Speaker Ken Kowalski proudly placed “While human beings can create laws, the laws of God must take precedence” as the first bullet point in a campaign advertisement during the March 2008 election.

When an apology isn’t enough.

Liberal MLA Dave Taylor used some pretty tasteless language in the Legislature this week. While it was only a matter of time before a heckler like Taylor said something that he would regret, he accepted responsibility for his comments and publicly apologized on the Assembly floor the next day. However, it appears that Taylor’s public apology wasn’t enough for some members of the Legislature.

Seconds after Taylor’s public apology, Premier Stelmach presented a letter to the Legislature shaming the opposition MLA and Liberal leader David Swann. The letter was posted on the Premier’s official website shortly after that. It appears that Stelmach saw Taylor’s screw-up as an opportunity to make an example of the vocal critic, but no MLA, including Stelmach, has a track record to boast moral superiority in the Legislature. While it may have been posted during a fit of hyper-partisanship, there is no reason that this letter needed to be posted on the Premier’s official website after Taylor apologized.

Once again, we see more of the same old politics, and more of the same old games.

A couple weeks ago, a Calgary journalist suggested to me that ‘at some point, we’re going to have to start treating political ideologues like religious nutcases.’ Maybe we have reached that point.

what’s eating the alberta liberals?

The first sentence of a recent letter sent out by Liberal Leader David Swann sums up the state of Alberta’s Official Opposition Party:

“We need your help to keep the ALP office operating at a reasonable level, and ready to serve Albertans.”

Over a year after the last election, the Alberta Liberals are struggling to pay their bills. It’s hard to understand why a political organization that earned 251,158 votes in the last election would have such a hard time paying off their 8-year debt, now sitting at around $400,000. The once $1 million debt-load was largely the product of the 2001 election campaign under former leader Nancy MacBeth. The Liberals went from 16 to 7 seats in that election, including a loss by MacBeth in Edmonton-McClung.

Two leaders and four years later, Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft led the Liberals to reclaim a majority of seats in Edmonton and gain a three-seat beachhead in Calgary. While PC leader Ralph Klein was unceremoniously shown the door in 2006, the Liberals had high hopes. Ed Stelmach was selected as PC leader, and the Liberals raised $1 million in 2007 and won the by-election in Klein’s abandoned Calgary-Elbow constituency. As the 2008 election approached, most people predicted the PCs would be re-elected, but with a reduced majority government.

On March 3, 2008, the PCs got their vote out, and everyone else stayed home. Well, that’s not really what happened, but it’s almost true. The PCs surged from 63 to 72 seats, unseating Liberals, New Democrats, and Wildrosers across Alberta, but voter turnout dropped to record low levels. With only around 90% of Albertans registered to vote, the pathetic turnout likely sat under 40% of eligible voters (including 22 out of 83 ridings which had less than 40% turnout).

While the Liberals dropped to 9 MLAs in 2008 by losing seats in Edmonton and facing decreasing support in rural Alberta, they did manage to increase their seat and vote total in Calgary by electing two new MLAs. The election of Kent Hehr in Calgary-Buffalo and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall shifted the power base in the Liberal caucus to southern Alberta for the first time in recent memory (five MLAs from Calgary, three from Edmonton, and one from Lethbridge). In the contest to replace Taft, two Calgary MLAs quickly became frontrunners.

In December 2008, Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann won a first-ballot victory against fellow Calgary MLA Dave Taylor and former Edmonton MLA Mo Elsalhy to become the first Liberal leader from Calgary since Nick Taylor campaigned in that city during the 1970s (Nick Taylor was eventually elected MLA in the Westlock-Sturgeon and Redwater ridings north of Edmonton from 1986 to 1996).

Following his victory, Swann appointed Elsalhy to lead a committee tasked with proposing recommendations to renew the Liberal Party. Joining Elsalhy on the committee are Norma Block of Drayton Valley, Barry Cavanaugh and Stephanie Laskoski of Edmonton, Jade Boldt and Peter Willott of Calgary, and Zack Moline of Lethbridge. The committee has launched a website to jump start some discussion, and in a recent email, Elsalhy announced the launch of a survey for ALP members and non-members asking what Alberta’s Liberal Party can do to renew itself. At the Legislature, Swann has brought in former MLA Rick Miller as Chief of Staff, and Calgary Federal Liberal organizer Neil Mackie as Communications Director.

Can the Alberta Liberals renew by creating momentum, attracting new members, and paying down their financial debt? What will it take for the Swann Liberals to attract new strong candidates, as well as re-attracting the many former Liberal MLAs who have moved on to other levels of government (Edmonton City Councillors Linda Sloan, Karen Leibovici, and Ed Gibbons come to mind).

The Alberta Liberals are in a rough spot, financially and organizationally, and though it may be easy to criticize Swann’s choice to focus on open consultations rather than implement a pre-made strategy, consultation and dialogue are his style. At this point in the game, the Liberals have very little to lose, so my recommendations to them are to be bold, challenge their status quo, and turn things on their head, because if the current fundraising trends continue, the Alberta Liberal Party may not be in the position to do so after the next election.

Coming Wednesday: Tiny Perfect Alberta NDP

political conversations thriving on twitter and blogs.

This week’s FFWD Weekly has two interesting articles covering online social media in Alberta.

Alberta political conversation thrives on Twitter by Jeremy Klaszus covers some of the interesting political debates happening on Twitter. In a recent trend that has taken the Wild Rose province by storm, Twitter users from across Alberta have been “live-tweeting” commentary of the Alberta Legislature’s daily Question Period. You can follow the live commentary by searching for the hash-tag #ABLeg using Twitter Search.

Alberta MLAs on Twitter include Doug Griffiths, Jonathan Denis, Doug Elniski, Kyle Fawcett, Dave Hancock, Kent Hehr, and Dave Taylor.

The Rise of Political Blogs by Trevor Scott Howell gives some good insight into the state of political blogs in Alberta, and includes interviews with bloggers Ken Chapman, David Climenhaga, Enlightened Savage, a member of the AGRDT crew, and yours truly.

david swann names neil mackie as official opposition communications director.

After recently naming Rick Miller as the new Official Opposition Chief of Staff, David Swann today named Neil Mackie as the Communications Director, replacing former Director Larry Johnsrude.

Mackie comes from Calgary with some interesting (and perhaps mixed) partisan roots.

Having served as President of the Calgary-Southwest Federal Liberal Association, Mackie ran unsuccessfully against former Calgary-West PC MLA Karen Kryczka in the 2007 Board of Education election, and is listed as having supported Michael Ignatieff during the 2006 Federal Liberal leadership race.

Mackie will be leaving his position as President of the Calgary-based Vincero Communications, a subsidiary of Ivrnet Inc. In the recent past, Ivrnet/Vincero have done political polling for Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor during his unsuccessful Liberal leadership bid, and former Edmonton-Riverview PC candidate Wendy Andrews during her run against former Liberal leader Kevin Taft in March 2008. I’m told that while working with the company, Mackie also handled polling in up to 53 PC held ridings during the 2008 election, and in Calgary-Buffalo for the campaign of Liberal Kent Hehr.

Well-known politicos with Ivrnet/Vincero connections include its current Vice-President, former Calgary-Centre Reform Party MP Eric Lowther, and former Calgary Herald reporter David Heyman. Heyman was employed as Director of Communications for Ivrnet/Vincero before becoming Calgary Communications Manager for Premier Ed Stelmach.

winter 2008 pre-session primer.

With the Second Session of the 27th Alberta Legislature set to begin next week, here are a couple things that will be on my radar:

Throne Speech: Having attended five out of the past six Speeches from the Throne, I’m having a difficult time raising my expectations this year. No matter what is read, PC MLAs will roar, Opposition Liberals and NDP will oppose, but in the end, everyone will still love Norman Kwong.

Provincial Budget: Expected in March/April, this will be the first provincial deficit budget that Alberta has seen in over a decade. After sending out mixed signals, it looks like dipping into the Sustainability Fund will provide short-term protection to Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Iris Evans from being lynched by the rabid fiscal conservatives in the PC caucus. Are the days of the Deep Six long gone?

Health Care: Health Minister Ron Liepert will be in the spotlight over restructuring, layoffs, and the daily delisting and (un)delisting of services. Focus will be on Liepert, but I will be keeping an eye on his Parliamentary Deputy, Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman, says or doesn’t say on the issue of privatization during this session.

New Official Opposition Leader: Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann will lead the Official Opposition into his first Legislative Session as leader. Can he lead the rag-tag Liberal Caucus as a cohesive unit? Pay attention to what Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor does in this session.

Oil-bama
: Stelmach has invited President Barack Obama to visit Alberta’s Oil Sands, but this isn’t about oil, this is all about Climate Change. The PCs are clearly concerned that Obama’s Climate Change agenda could force the traditional oil industry to clean up its act. It’s a market, and if the consumers (the United States) change their standards, it’s up to the producer (the oil companies) to either adapt or perish. It’s not hard to see what direction the energy market is moving towards when large energy companies, such as BP, continue to move resources into renewable energy projects in the United States. Albertans have a unique opportunity to become leaders in innovation in new cleaner energy markets, but as long as our leaders continue to focus on the old economy, we risk being left behind.

Land-Use Framework: Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton has the job of navigating his proposed land-use framework through the minefield that is the Alberta Legislature, and more specifically, the PC caucus. This is a very important step for Alberta, so critical debate and public attention towards this issue will be important.

Respect: Swann wants to tone down the rhetoric and dramatics in the Legislative Assembly, but it will take more than nice wishes to change an entrenched political culture. Without a joint statement between Swann and Stelmach, it is likely that it won’t become anything more than a nice idea. Bets on how long it take for Stelmach to accuse Swann of being a communist?

Post-Secondary Learning Amendment Act
: Advanced Ed & Tech Minister Doug Horner will introduce amendments to the PSL Act that will pave the way for Mount Royal College and Grant MacEwan College to become Mount Royal University and Grant MacEwan University. Last week, representatives from the AUCC were spotted at Mount Royal assessing the transition.

Bill 201. Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr will be introducing Bill 201: Traffic Safety (Seizure of Vehicles Containing Illegally Held Firearms) Act.

Lobbyist Registry. After years of promising to create a Provincial Lobbyist Registry, is there a chance that we might actually see some concrete movement this spring? (fingers crossed…)

david swann meets ed stelmach, and faces challenges from inside the liberal caucus.

Liberal Opposition leader David Swann and PC Premier Ed Stelmach met yesterday to discuss niceties and the upcoming provincial budget. This is a positive step for both party leaders, and I hope that for Albertans sake, some semblance of civility can be preserved between the two men.

Swann’s challenge will be to balance the ‘spirit of cooperation’ while actually providing an effective opposition to the governing PCs in the Legislature (and this is probably as difficult as it sounds). It remains to be seen if the toxically partisan environment in the Legislative Assembly will allow any civility between the two party leaders to survive when the Legislature begins sitting in February. Up until the Fall 2008 Session of the Legislature, the tension between Stelmach and former Liberal leader Kevin Taft had gotten so heated that Stelmach would frequently accuse Taft of being a Red Menace.

He must also be weary of not taking a route too close to the one taken by former Liberal leader Ken Nicol. When replacing defeated leader Nancy MacBeth in 2001, then-Lethbridge-East MLA Nicol’s quiet and polite tone made it easy for the Klein PCs to railroad over the Legislative opposition and the Raj Pannu-led NDP to garner much of the media attention, leaving the newly reduced Liberal caucus (7 MLAs elected in 2001, down from 18 in 1997) in their weakest position in over a decade.

While striking a conciliatory tone with Premier Stelmach may be a productive start, Swann is likely aware of the challenges he faces within his caucus.

Managing Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald and Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor are likely going to be key challenges in keeping the rag-tag caucus together. MacDonald, who appears to have become almost obsessed with unearthing PC scandals, has fine-tuned the exercise of crying wolf, diluting the opposition Liberals’ position on many issues. As Swann’s former leadership challenger, Taylor holds some forceful opinions on the direction of the opposition and the Liberal Party which clash with some of Swann’s ideas (not that I believe a different name will solve the Liberal Party’s organizational and psychological problems, but more on that later).

If Swann is to lead an effective opposition in the Legislature, his caucus will need to reign in wild card Hugh MacDonald, while managing Dave Taylor’s recently bruised ego.

can david swann change politics in alberta?

Alberta Liberals may have selected a new leader this weekend, but they still face the same serious challenges as they did a week ago. New Official Opposition leader David Swann, and competitors Dave Taylor and Mo Elsalhy were only able to convince 6,000 Albertans to participate in the vote, which raises some serious questions about the viability of the Liberal organization in Alberta. As leader, Swann will need to engage the +250,000 Albertans who supported the Liberals in the last election, while trying to reverse his party’s downward slide in popular support over the past 15 years.

The latter is a challenge not uniquely faced by Swann and the party he now leads. As voter turnout continues to slide across the board, it is clear that there is a serious disconnect between the average Alberta citizen and the political organizations and politicians representing them in the Legislature. This poses a serious threat not only to all of our political parties, but also to the existence of democratic vibrancy, a humbling reality that is lost on many of our current elected representatives.

The serious question also needs to be asked whether the Liberals are politically, organizationally, and financially past the point of saving. I have serious questions about the future potential of that party, which was only able to draw around 120 delegates to its recent annual convention. As I’ve written before, as none of our political parties have been able to successfully engage Albertans, it may be time to look outside the traditional party establishment (others have thoughts on this as well).

Though partisan opponents have already begun to label Swann as an ‘out of touch academic,’ I have a hard-time believing that most Albertans would categorize a family doctor as an academic. This type of behavior dilutes the political dialogue, and is the exact type of lowest-common denominator partisanship that keeps citizens away from political involvement in droves.

In the end, Swann may prove not to be the great leader who leads the Liberals to victory in Alberta, but he is certainly cut from a different cloth than the two other party leaders in the Alberta Legislature. He is not a career politician (both Ed Stelmach and Brian Mason have been politicians for over 20 years) and is not any more charismatic than either of his counterparts in the Legislature, but agree or disagree with his politics, Swann is a devout Christian, social justice advocate, and environmentalist who personally practices what he preaches when it comes to what he believes in, and you can’t fault him for being genuine (he has also been one of the few MLAs to seriously engage First Nations communities on water safety and oil sands issues in northern Alberta).

As a politically engaged and frustrated Albertan who is looking to become involved in 1) an organization that is serious about engaging and challenging Albertans to be better citizens, and 2) a viable and competitive alternative to the current governing party, I have serious doubts that the Liberal Party fits these descriptions, but seeing engaged citizens like David Swann get involved in elected politics gives me a little bit more hope for democracy in general.